Shakira Martin has won the NUS presidency in a landslide victory, receiving 402 votes to incumbent President Malia Bouattia’s 272. Martin, who is currently occupying the role of NUS Vice President for Further Education, campaigned with the tagline “Making education an option for everyone”.
Martin has presented herself as a centrist, with a particular stress on helping further education students, increasing accessibility to education, and connecting directly to students who have been sidelined by the union. She did not go to university herself, instead getting a diploma in education and teaching from Lewisham College – something she has been vocal about in her campaign. Martin has emphasised the importance of her working class background in helping her understand and focus on the impact that education can have, and hopes that this will better prepare her for her future term in office.
Speaking about her recent victory, Martin said, “I am honoured and humbled to have been elected as NUS’ National President. I take this as a vote of trust that our members believe I can lead our national movement to be the fighting and campaigning organisation we need it to be, representing the breadth of our diverse membership.
“Further education made me who I am today and I look forward to sharing stories of just how powerful all forms of education can be when we’re all given access to it. During my term in office, I want to spend my time listening, learning and leading.”
Martin beat out Bouattia and third contender Tom Harwood, who received the remaining 35 votes of the 721 cast by the union’s delegates. Her victory suggests the NUS is moving away from a wider political stance to one more involved with the direct concerns of students; Martin herself has been publicly undecided on who she will cast her vote for in the upcoming general election, although The Guardian has reported that she has voiced support for Jeremy Corbyn in the past.
It is unusual that an incumbent NUS president loses their bid for a second term of presidency, but the decision not to re-elect Bouattia comes after a wave of controversy regarding “anti-Semitic” comments she had made. The president referred to Birmingham University as “something of a Zionist outpost in British higher education” last year, which a Home Affairs Select Committee report found to be “outright racism”. The Union of Jewish Students voted on whether to disaffiliate from the NUS in response, although the motion was ultimately voted against.
Nevertheless, the president received a standing ovation from her supporters when she spoke at the conference, emphasising her background as the child of refuges from Algeria. “I have been harassed, had death threats and been hounded for my beliefs, but my leadership has stayed determined, stayed resilient and stayed strong,” said Bouattia.
Martin will have a hard task ahead of her if she intends to heal the rifts in the NUS.